Halal in Japan: A Lucrative Future for the Tourism Industry
In economics and the art of marketing, religion is just another classy term for “another niche market we capitalists can exploit”. These religious people have needs; the market can supply them. Supply and demand, basic economics. As for the halal food market, it is indeed a lucrative opportunity for people, especially considering the rising influence of Islam globally.
However, in Japan alone, Islam is still a minority; an estimated 100,000 people amidst the 127.3 million residents of Japan. Most of these Muslims are foreigners and only a small percentage are natives.
The Islam Market in Japan
While the national Muslim population of Japan is very low, consider the influx of tourists coming into Japan annually. Because of the assertiveness and territorial claims of China over the last few years, in around 2012-2013, Japan has seen a decline in Chinese tourists. An unfortunate condition, considering the Chinese are big spenders. So Japan had to look for other people to entice.
With a weakening yen and cheap tour packages, tourists from Southeast Asia came in and filled in the gaping hole left by the Chinese in the tourism industry. In 2014, Japan saw more Indonesians and Malaysians than it has ever seen in years; 200,000 Malaysians and around 160,000 Indonesians entered Japan as tourists (JNTO stats). A majority of these new tourists are Muslim, meaning that they require their food to be halal, or processed according to Islamic guidelines.
Halal in Japan
A rare halal restaurant in Japan. Sauce: Japan Guide.
For Muslims, Japan is a rather risky place to visit, mainly because their customs do not mix well with the teachings of Islam, especially dining. Pork, and especially alcohol, are inseparable from the omnivorous Japanese diet and also its culture. Shops have to serve alcohol lest they go bankrupt and everyone loves a bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
It is not like Japanese business people have not noticed this new emerging halal market. As it is said in the intro, the needs of religious people will be met by people who can supply them. Perhaps the most stellar achievement is the development of the app “Halalminds”. Developed by Agung Pambudi, an Indonesian living in Japan. Halalminds is an app tailored to meet the needs of Muslim tourists who want to find some food.
Here’s what the app offers:
The main feature of HalalMinds is a barcode scanner that can be used while grocery shopping. Once an item is scanned, it is matched against the app’s database of approximately 500,000 products to determine if it is halal or not. This is especially useful for those who cannot read Japanese, as food labels often contain complex kanji characters.
The app also provides a halal restaurant locator, a “Qibla compass” that shows the correct direction to face for daily prayers, and daily Quran verses.
HalalMinds has been downloaded more than 1,100 times since launching less than a month ago. At present, the app is only available in English, but additional language support may come at a later date. (Tech in Asia, 21 May 2014)
Going halal is indeed a lucrative opportunity for Japan, considering the rising Islam population and Japan becoming more open to tourism. It is unlikely to be a passing fad, especially as Japan prepares for the 2020 Olympics. Japan can expect more Muslim tourists to come in the following years, so Japan has to do whatever it can to make these tourists comfortable.
However, with new customs, new problems also appear. It would be wise for businesses to address these problems swiftly before the entire halal stuff comes back as a painful boomerang which hurts the bridge Japan is building with the global Muslim community.
Source featured image: The Japan Times